HIGHLIGHTS, MATCH: Junior Wallabies hungry for more success after "huge" victory over New Zealand

Oceanic U20s Championship
by Emma Greenwood

Junior Wallabies captain Fraser McReight says his side's shutout of New Zealand for a maiden Oceania title sends a message to the rest of the world that Australia is a genuine world junior championship contender.

The Junior Wallabies beat New Zealand 24-0 to claim the Oceania U20 championship in front of a rapt crowd of 2136 at Bond University on the Gold Coast, becoming the first side other than the Kiwis to win the title.

McReight said the result was "huge for Australian rugby" at a time when the sport at the elite level is mired in negativity.

"Just to come out and perform like that, to keep them scoreless is huge," the Reds backrower said.

"I don't think anyone has done that for a while and that's huge for Australian rugby because of what's happening at the moment.

"It shows that Australian rugby is awesome and success is going to come in the future."

Junior Wallabies captain Fraser McReight with the Oceania U20 trophy. Photo: Getty Images

Despite talk this side did not have the star power of teams of the past, the Junior Wallabies' performance - which included a scrum win against the feed just before halftime when they were down to 14 men - has set a benchmark from which McReight says they refuse to retreat at the world championships in Argentina in June.

"There were probably comments around this team in the lead-up that we weren't up to scratch but we knew deep down that New Zealand weren't going to stand a chance with us and we showed that tonight and we were able to back up our talent on the ground," he said.

"That just sends a message.

"We're not there to be an average battling side, we're there to win it.

"And that just sends a message to all of Australia and all the other teams watching us."

Coach Jason Gilmore was thrilled for his side but was determined to keep them grounded.

 

"I think for the boys it's just good reward for the effort they're putting in and confidence in the systems we've got in place," Gilmore said.

"But we can't get ahead of ourselves either. World Cup rugby is completely different and in 2016 we beat New Zealand here as well (without winning the overall title) and lost the first game to Scotland over there.

"So we've got to make sure that we keep grounded and keep working hard and keep enjoying what we're doing."

McReight too, knows New Zealand will head to Argentina with a chip on their shoulder, making them an even more dangerous opponent.

"They're a team that everyone has to watch leading into the junior World Cup, they're going to prepare and they're going to watch every single bit of that game," he said.

"But so are we. We're going to be ready for the task that will come to us in Argentina and we're going to be prepared and we can't wait."

New Zealand had never lost the tournament since its inception in 2015 but were kept scoreless by a courageous Junior Wallabies outfit.

Isaac Lucas on the burst for the Junior Wallabies in their Oceania U20 championship clash against New Zealand. Photo: Sportography

A scrum win against the feed just before halftime when they were down to 14 men was a pivotal point in the match and set a mark from which the Aussies would not retreat in the second half.

Australia led 12-0 at the break on the back of a flawless kicking performance from flyhalf Will Harrison and outstanding patience and defence.

The heavy showers that peppered the Coast throughout the afternoon had cleared by kickoff but left a heavy ground and greasy ball and the Junior Wallabies dealt with conditions best.

The Junior Wallabies' ability to defend their line when inspirational no.8 Will Harris was in the sin bin broke the Kiwis' spirit and when they finally broke through for a magnificent try midway through the second half, they had one hand on the trophy.

Harrison drew first blood, converting a penalty after eight minutes on the back of pressure at the New Zealand breakdown in the opening stages and extended the lead to 6-0 within 15 minutes with another penalty as the Junior Wallabies continued to build pressure and show patience.

New Zealand had their own chance just minutes later after Michael Wood infringed at the breakdown but Kiwi flyhalf Fergus Burke missed his shot, relieving the pressure from Australia.

It was the Kiwis that had the best attacking chance of the opening half-hour though and looked set to score when winger Lalomilo Lalomilo broke into the clear.

He evaded three potential tacklers as he burst from the back of a ruck in midfield and looked certain to score before fullback Isaac Lucas completed a copybook cover tackle to put him into touch and spoil the raid.

Semisi Tupou of Australia is tackled during the Oceania Rugby U20 Championship match between Australia and New Zealand U20s. Photo: Getty Images

Harrison continued his faultless record, handing the Junior Wallabies a 12-0 lead with another pair of penalty conversions.

After Burke missed another penalty attempt, New Zealand was desperate to get on the board and had a chance when Australian no.8 Will Harris was handed a yellow card for handling in the ruck.

But the Australian scrum stood firm inside their own 22, forcing a turnover to maintain a clean sheet at the break.

The Junior Wallabies maintained their line until Harris returned but were remained under plenty of pressure after giving away a multitude of penalties.

It seemed New Zealand's pressure would have to tell but in a magnificent counterpunch, the Wallabies scored the first try of the match to push further ahead.

As the Kiwis packed another scrum close to their line following a penalty, the Junior Wallabies won against the feed, kicked for territory and charged down the Kiwis' attempted clearance before Noah Lolesio put in a pinpoint crosskick for Triston Reilly to score.

Coach Jason Gilmore stuck with his opening 15 for the first 67 minutes before injecting reserves into the game.

But his forwards played as though they had fresh legs, driving New Zealand down the field in a magnificent rolling maul and launched another that led to McReight's try and the championship trophy. 

Earlier, Fiji ended its Oceania campaign on a high note with a 59-37 win against Japan in the opening match.

An upset seemed on the cards when Japan took a 30-28 lead through a penalty conversion early in the second half on the back of continued scrum dominance.

But when Fiji kept the ball in hand and spread it wide despite the conditions, they ran away with the match.

Japan scored a try with five minutes remaining to give themselves a late sniff but Fiji shut them out to record their first win of the tournament.

RESULT

Junior Wallabies 24

Tries: Reilly, McReight

Cons: Harrison

Pens: Harrison 4

New Zealand 0